Governor McDonnell, end your silence

Here is the text of the letter from Equality Virginia:

March 6, 2010

The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell
Governor of Virginia
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Dear Governor McDonnell:

I write to ask you to end your silence, and to act on behalf of all Virginians.

Since taking office in January, you have chosen not to support efforts to amend Virginia law to codify a state “policy” against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You have explained your inaction and your “no position” on pending legislation saying that you have a “policy” against such discrimination in your office, even though that “policy” does not, and according to the opinion you once issued as Attorney General, cannot apply to all state employees or even to the employees of your own Cabinet members.

Now, a letter, signed on March 4, 2010 by the current Attorney General and sent to the state’s colleges and universities, casts doubt, under your own legal analysis, about whether you can even enforce a “policy” of nondiscrimination within the Office of the Governor. Applying your joint legal theory, the Attorney General states that both an official policy enacted by a university board of visitors and an informal policy implemented by the president of an institution (your corollary) would be equally invalid in the absence of legislative endorsement.

If yours and the Attorney General’s analysis of existing state law is correct (and we strongly question whether it is), this means that you would be acting without legal authority if, as Governor, you sought to enforce your “policy” against discrimination to protect any person in your office from adverse action based on his/her sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus, you cannot argue with any validity that you can, as Governor, protect anyone from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity without a change in the law.

The good news is that it is not too late for you to exert leadership to change the law, as many Virginians, our academic and business leaders, and the Richmond Times Dispatch and other editorial writers have urged you to do. Under the Constitution of Virginia and the legislative procedural rules, you may send a bill down for consideration at any time before the legislature adjourns sine die on Saturday, March 13, 2010.

Accordingly, Equality Virginia respectfully requests that you write the House of Delegates or the Senate requesting the immediate introduction of either or both of the following:
1) a bill to amend the nondiscrimination policy in Section 2.2-3900 B.1. of the Virginia Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity (such legislation would moot the Attorney General’s advice to the colleges); and
2) a bill identical to SB 66 governing nondiscrimination in the state workforce or HB 1116 governing nondiscrimination in state and local employment (such legislation would implement the nondiscrimination policy for public employees, including those in your office and at state universities and colleges).

Failure to take positive action during this legislative session to encourage enactment of a state policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be seen by the thousands of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Virginians (and the many thousands more Virginians who count themselves among their families and allies) as confirming that your promise of a “Commonwealth of Opportunity” is a hollow one for them.

Repeating that you believe discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong no longer carries any weight. The Attorney General’s and your legal opinion makes crystal clear you believe (rightly or wrongly) that neither you nor any other state officer has authority to hold anyone accountable when they practice such discrimination.

Actions always speak louder than words. Virginians expect our leaders to lead. Going forward, your actions in this case, not your words, will determine the credibility of your promise of opportunity.

Very truly yours,
Jon Blair
Chief Executive Officer, Equality Virginia

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